At war with the status quo: Nest Labs’ unique approach to customer service

John Moses, head of customer support at Nest Labs, reveals his mission for customer experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Customer support teams need to go beyond the initial inquiry to help customers realize the full potential of the product.
  • Great customer support requires a personal connection between the agent and the customer.
  • Although the pressure to manage costs is tremendous, not investing in customer support can be more costly to a brand in the long run.

Posted December 6, 2017

This interview is from issue 4 of Customers First magazine – sharing customer experience strategies for tech brands and other marketplace disruptors.

John Moses is head of customer support at Nest Labs, a Google-owned maker of smart thermostats, smoke detectors, security cameras and other security systems – and one of the leaders in the Internet of Things (IoT) consumer technology space. Before joining Nest in 2015, Moses was VP of global customer care for HP’s printing and personal systems division, overseeing a 14,000-person support team. Moses takes a strategic “test and learn” approach to customer service, a skill he brings from his nearly 15 years as a strategy consultant.

As part of the Voxpro Studios podcast series, Patrick Haughey recently spoke to Moses about how Nest is trying to bring warmth, humanness and a sense of self-sufficiency to customer support, while helping users address the inherent complexity and overwhelming feature choice in today’s IoT-enabled devices. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

How would you characterize Nest’s approach to the market and to customer service?

John Moses (JM): I would say that Nest is at war with the status quo. We want to challenge what people have been trained to believe about their homes and the products that are on their walls, like thermostats or smoke detectors, and say it doesn’t have to be that way.

When you’re doing things differently and disrupting a traditional industry as Nest has done, what are some of the main customer challenges you face?

JM: I think that we’ve introduced customers to beautiful products, but what we’ve also done is given people more choices, more options to configure and use them in a way that fits their desires, their goals, their lifestyle.

Nest products are probably the finest quality, hardest worked products that you’ll come across. And because we’ve loaded these things with functionality, I would say that the greatest customer service challenge – now and in the future – is feature adoption. This is an educational challenge. How do I help people to first adopt a product with a killer feature, but then get them to learn about the other 10 or 20 things they could do with that product?

I think that when you give someone a smartphone today, most customers are doing five or six things with it, but the device can do much more. Helping customers on a journey to learning, to embracing, to trying what that product can do, is the position customer support teams should be taking.

With Nest products and other IoT-connected devices, how do you help customers overcome the perceived (or real) complexity?

JM: There’s a misperception that customers call [customer support] because they don’t want to do the groundwork to really understand a new product, but I think most customers would love to self-serve. I think we need to build their confidence, to point the way, to teach them to fish if you will.

A lot of the customer interactions at Nest start with us helping them with one thing, but at the end of every call, I insist that we send them an email with some additional information or an article to say, “Here’s what we showed you how to do, and by the way, you could’ve done that yourself, and here’s something else that we talked about that you might be interested in.” What we’re doing is basically helping to create self-sufficiency, and that’s something that customers are very proud of.

IDC InfoBrief: Preparing your support team for the IoT-connected consumer

How smart companies will differentiate with customer experience

Download the e-book

What do you think are the qualities inherent in a really great customer support agent?

JM: I think we’ve all made this harder than it has to be in terms of delivering great customer experiences. That’s because we haven’t always enabled an agent to be successful. We haven’t put them in a position to be free, to do what they need to do, to build a personal connection.

I always say that this is a human equation; you’ve got an agent on one side and you’ve got the customer on the other. What I’m trying to build is some experience between those two people, and there is no pre-cut way of doing that. There are certainly fundamentals that we want to teach, but we want that customer to feel like that agent listened, that they actually built a personal connection, that there might have even been some level of humor in the dialog.

How do you see the role of social support, chat and the various other support channels that may be a bit less personal?

JM: Customers by and large would much prefer to have a dialog in a chat or on social media where they are controlling the time frame. They can ask a question, look at their computer or their phone and do something else, and then come back to the answer later. But the communication doesn’t have to be any less informal, even when it is written. We want to bring what we call “Nestiness,” a warmth and humanness to the dialog, where we’re not robots, where customers don’t feel like the conversation is scripted, where they have a sense that we’re being personal and human.

Where do you see the most opportunity in the customer service world?

JM: They say customer service is the new marketing, because people don’t necessarily listen to what the brand says about itself, or what a company says about itself. They’re going to listen to what other customers are saying, and so your service function becomes more and more strategic and critical. I would say service is the largest room in the house for improvement in a company. It’s a playground where you can make change and experiment and see progress before your very eyes in a way that you might not in other functions.

You have this flood of information, data and analytics, and then you say “what can we do differently?” And you can experiment. You can try things, do a pilot, and you can always change back. So we’re doing that all the time and making it an ongoing experiment and a strategic problem-solving story week-over-week.

How would you characterize the current state of customer support in the tech industry?

JM: Like in most functions, the pressure to manage cost is tremendous, and so you have had the majority of companies working very hard to not do support. They’re trying to save 10 cents, but they’re losing a dollar. They’re trying to say no to customers, or they’re trying to deflect calls instead of just opening the floodgates, taking it in and learning.

I think there’s this cost to non-support that happens where you didn’t help the customer, the customer didn’t get their problems solved, they might have returned the product, and they probably told 10 people about the bad experience they had. So that’s where you’ve lost the dollar when you’ve saved the 10 cents. I just think it’s shortsighted and it’s a shame. By and large, that’s been the norm.

But I think it’s changing. I think the pendulum is swinging, and a lot of companies are figuring out that it’s a losing proposition for their brand and their sales in the long run.

In 10 years’ time, what will customer support look like, specifically around IoT? How different is it going to be?

JM: I think customers are still going to want products that allow them to live a more connected, controlled and informed life. These things are going to be very attractive to people. But they also present big challenges. What is the sense of privacy? Who can see the data that’s generated, and could it get hacked? So there’s this huge anxiety that comes with it.

I don’t think customers will forego the experience because of that, so it’s going to be up to brands and support departments to help reassure people that using this capability can also be done in a way that’s private, where they’re respected and in control, and that they’re not taking some unnecessary risk.

The second challenge is with all the choices, all the decisions. While these IoT-enabled products are getting incredibly powerful, there are also more and more features and interplay between how customers use the product and how products work together, the choices they make, who can see what, etc. And so I call it the “configuration challenge” that may create a dilemma in the future, where it isn’t about fixing broken things but more about educating customers about all the available options.

Contact an outsourcing expert Contact an
outsourcing expert

Let us answer your questions, provide more details, or share our industry expertise.

Get in touch

Customer quote

In every interaction we have with TELUS International, they teach us something new about delivering great support. They teach us something new about our processes and capabilities, and how they can be improved.

Director, Enterprise Support
California-based tech giant